Glensheen Mansion History: The Historic Estate


Glensheen Mansion History

Chester Congdon, a teacher, lawyer and eventually a representative to the Minnesota State Legislature had the good fortune to purchase land that turned out to be iron producing. Congdon’s fortune was estimated at $40 million, making him the richest man in Minnesota at the time of his death. The Congdon’s wealth allowed the estate to be built will all of the latest amenities of the day: running hot water, electricity and an irrigation system for the expansive estate grounds. Construction of this American castle began in 1905 and completed in 1908 at a cost of $864,000. This is equivalent to over $17 million today. The Congdon’s 7.6 acre wooded estate includes the mansion, a carriage house, gardener’s house, green house, a flower garden, tennis court, cow barn and a vegetable garden where the family grew its own produce. The two-story carriage house also includes apartments, a horse stable and a carriage room. Today, the carriage house is home to the Glensheen administrative offices.

Construction of the Glensheen Estate

Glensheen was built to house Congdon’s family, but Chester unfortunately passed away in 1916, not long after it was built. Clara Congdon lived until the 1950s, at which time her daughter Elizabeth, who never married, inherited the vast Congdon fortune and lived at the estate until 1977, raising two adopted daughters of her own, Jennifer and Marjorie. All in all, the mansion was a family home for the better part of 70 years. In 1977, the property was deeded to the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and the university has since turned Glensheen into a museum with guided tours.
The main house has 15 bedrooms, 15 fireplaces and 39 rooms in total. Today, the home is adorned with the same furnishings that were purchased to fill the house originally, and the gold-leaf trim and marble inlays have been restored to their original condition. The pier on the estate was the largest privately-owned pier on Lake Superior. In 1977, the property was deeded to the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and the university two years later Glensheen was turned into a museum with guided tours. Guides wearing early 1900s period dress give tours of the home and expound on the history of the home and the Congdon family. In the more than 30 years since the property passed to the University, over 2 million visitors have toured the estate.

The Naming of Glensheen Mansion

Why the Congdons called the mansion Glensheen isn’t actually known for sure, but two theories have been proposed on the subject. One is that the name derived from the physical surroundings of the estate, mainly from the glen of the forest and the sheen of the water. A second theory is that the name comes from the area of Glensheen in England, where the Congdon family originated from.
Go to Part 2: Glensheen Mansion Murders
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